Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., may be causing eyes to roll or shocks of horror in his own party after he disclosed that he is, in fact, a member of the Knights of Columbus during a Wednesday judicial nomination hearing.
In a Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing for U.S. District Court Judge Peter Phipps to serve on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., got snarky.
“I want to ask you a hard question,” Sasse said to Phipps. “Are you now or have you ever been involved in the organization of a fish fry?”
Sasse’s question was a sarcastic reference to the line of questioning made by Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii for judicial nominee and Knights of Columbus member Brian Buescher in December 2018.
Sasse proceeded to press Phipps, who is also a member of the Catholic charitable group.
“Judge, did you get questions for the record about being a member of the Knights of Columbus?” Sasse said.
Phipps confirmed that he was questioned.
“Do you know why?” Sasse asked. “Because I’m confused. This is a new tradition around here evidently, trying to figure out if people are members of religious organizations.”
“So it’s much more the stuff of community service, love of neighbor, fish fries, and pool parties than some sort of ‘Da Vinci Code’ stuff?” Sasse added. “I just want to be clear that I understand this scary organization you’re a member of.”
Leahy disapproved of Sasse’s questions, and seemed particularly confused by Sasse’s “Da Vinci Code” comment.
“Like my father, I’ve been a long-time member of the Knights of Columbus, and even though I’m half Italian, I don’t remember any discussion of da Vinci,” Leahy said. “What are you referring to? Is this something that I missed?”
Leahy appeared to have misunderstood or forgoten about Harris’ and Hirono’s past uncomfortable lines of questioning at the Buescher nomination hearing during which they scrutinized the Knights of Columbus for its affirmation of traditional marriage and for its opposition to abortion.
Hirono and Harris justified their questions about Buescher’s membership with the group out of supposed concern that it would in some way harm his ability to judge fairly. Hirono even asked Buescher if he would recuse himself from any case on which the Knights of Columbus has taken a stance.
Later in the Buescher nomination hearing, Sasse introduced a resolution saying judicial nominees can be Knights of Columbus, which the Senate adopted.
Leahy, who did not initially pick up on Sasse’s sarcasm, said he resented the implications of his comments:
My father was a youngster who went to work, and they had signs that said ‘no Catholics need apply’ or ‘no Irish need apply.’ He stood against that kind of prejudice for any religion. I faced it the first time I ran for the Senate, and overcame it. My state has become different. What is da Vinci? I don’t understand. And I’m a little bit annoyed as a member of the K. of C.
Sasse pointed out that he was merely copying the behavior of Leahy’s Democratic colleagues, and clarified that he personally believes the Knights of Columbus “is doing wonderful work.”
“You’ve got people on your side of the aisle wondering if someone who’s a member of the Knights of Columbus should be able to be a judge,” Sasse said.
Sasse added that he believes Leahy and he agrees about the Knights.
“As a member, I was certainly resenting the implication,” Leahy said. “Thank you.”
Some Democrats have stood up to the anti-Christian rhetoric in their party. Democratic Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Dan Lipinski of Illinois, for example, expressed concern and distaste for their colleagues’ tactics after the Buescher hearing.